Scottish pupils face a growing struggle to get into the country’s universities, which now play host to a growing number of overseas students paying lucrative fees, a report by the public spending watchdog has found.
And university chiefs today warned that the Brexit vote is causing “instability and serious levels of risk in almost every aspect” of their business.
Scotland’s universities are still internationally renowned, the Audit Scotland report finds, but there are now major concerns over their long-term funding, with “high quality” teaching at risk and its world class research base thrown into doubt. Unlike elsewhere in the UK, Scottish students can study at home universities for free as the SNP government funds their fees. EU rules mean other European students outside the UK must get their fees paid as well. The number of these funded places did rise by 7,000 to 110,000 between 2013 and 2015, but this increase is outstripped by the number of people applying to get in.
“This has made it more difficult for Scottish students to get into university as demand has grown more quickly than the number of funded places available,” the report said.
Almost one in five Scots who apply are now rejected.
The number of students from the EU has almost doubled in the past decade to more than 20,000, while those from outside the EU has grown by 58 per cent to 29,000.
Almost 8,000 students at Scottish Universities are Chinese, the biggest international cohort and twice as high as the 4,000 Americans. There are also now growing concerns about universities’ long-term funding because they will struggle to attract fee-paying international students, and due to cuts to their funding by the Scottish Government.
Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal of the University of Dundee, said: “Higher education is facing a range of very real funding pressures that need to be addressed.
“This assessment was reached before the Brexit vote which is causing instability and serious levels of risk in almost every aspect of universities’ business. The continued sustainability of Scotland’s universities cannot be in question.”
The report also warns Scotland’s place as a world-leading research hub is in jeopardy with a 7 per cent real terms cut in research funding between 2014-15 and 2016-17.